Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Your TBR pile

This came up in conversation in real life and on various websites of which I'm a member so I thought I'd throw it out there...

While you're all working on a novel, what do you read? Do you avoid the genre in which you write, or do you immerse yourself in it?

Me, I usually have about five books on the go at once. And they vary. I could have bookmarks in poetry, historical, YA, women's fiction and biographical books. I know many authors say they avoid reading while they're actually working on a book because they don't want to be influenced by other authors, but I reckon that could only happen if you're not too widely-read. If your reading material is limited, I think then there's a danger of your own work becoming derivative.

I read voraciously. (Odd that I don't have any YA urban fantasy on my bedside table at the moment, as that's the genre in which I write). When I'm not sleeping, writing or spending time with friends, I'm reading. To me, it's research, education, escape and damn good entertainment.

What say ye?


KeVin K. said...

I usually read nonfiction while writing. Layman-level science magazines or histories/biographies. No current events because of my blood pressure. For fun I usually read YA adventures -- such as classic Heinlein -- because they're clean and linear while respecting the reader's intelligence. If I'm preparing to write for a specific IP, I read a lot of stories set in that particular universe (and ALWAYS ask the acquisitions editor for a list of her favorites). I generally read anthologies rather than novels because I do not read quickly and don't know when I'll be called away. Pure pleasure fiction reading is likely to be equal parts science fiction, mysteries and romances -- though the dearth of romance anthologies means the genre is usually underrepresented.

Juliette M said...

I read like a fiend. I do read the genre in which I am writing, partly for research and partly for fun. This week, there has been:

Mankind: Have a Nice Day! - Mick Foley
Last Chance Saloon - Marian Keyes
How to Cook a Tart - Nina Killham
The Ready-Made Family - Antonia Forest
You're Him, Aren't You? - Paul Darrow
Not That Kind Of Girl - Catherine Alliott
Making Money - Terry Pratchett

I love books so much. If I had to give up books or chocolate, there wouldn't even be a contest...

Perhaps I should try that :D

Kaz Augustin said...

Similar, and yet completely opposite, to Kevin! :)

I don't read the genre I'm writing in. I would hate my muse to get hijacked by a really fantastic idea from another sci-fi author while I'm trying to craft my own stuff. It strikes me as dishonest. (After the work is finished...hey, fair game!)

I read A LOT of current politics and other non-fiction. And I devour historicals because I can't write them for toffee!

liz fenwick said...

Interesting question Nichola. I'm one that doesn't read much while actually writing the first draft...I'm too wasted to give reading the necessary energy. I read while editing and on my kids hols when I don't do any editing or writing.

I also now find it hard to read for pure pleasure - in that I can't shut off the half a brain that is looking at writing style. I have to say this has slowed down my reading speed considerably as I go back think of gosh that was telling me and showing or wow that was done incredibly well etc........

Rowan Coleman said...

Good question, I never read in the genre i write in while I'm writing in whilst working on a book. But also I tend not to read at all while I'm writing at all becuase I worry I'll pick up their 'voice' - a bit like some people imitate accents without really realising it. This means I don't have much time for reading but I do have a giant pile of books by my bed that I look at longingly every night. Roll on Christmas, my present to myself is two weeks of reading non stop.

Flowerpot said...

I read whatever catches my eye at the time - could be stuff for research or anything, but I don't have as much time as I'd like to read at the moment.

hesitant scribe said...

I read voraciously and yet no matter how much I read it is never enough. Writing my novel for a PhD means that I have to read all sorts of heavy duty text books on writing, literature, criticism, and philosophy, and as the novel is set in Spain, am also reading lots of books in Spanish (everything from novels, histories of the area, short stories, lyrics, to newspapers!).

But I love reading. I read the shampoo bottle in the bath! Just finished A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers which is a novel written in broken English. I loved it and found it a real inspiration, not least because it gave me some alternatives on how to tackle language/translation in my own work.

When I teach writing I get a lot of resistance to reading from students who complain that reading will warp their own style, or that they'll find someone else has 'stolen' their ideas. To complaints of 'style' I tell them that it doesn't matter if they start to sound like whoever they're reading because that is what editing and redrafting is for - and to the second complaint, I tell them that surely that is all the more reason for reading?! So that you don't just reproduce stuff that's already been done, and means you can reasses your writing and take a more unique approach.

I find the really good students/writers are the ones who read endlessly, who devour words and use everything they find to improve their own work. They're the ones who turn up to workshops with a short story annotated and picked apart, incidentally.

I dunno! What do you think?

As for my TBR pile - it's starting to look like a library all by itself! And my up and coming reading list for the module and teaching from next week reads like this... (see if you guess what module it is?!!!)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Alice in Wonderland
Strewelpeter (ancient kids' story)
Cinderella & Little Red Riding Hood
Little Women
The Little White Horse
Goodnight Mr Tom
Tom Brown's School Days
The Witches & Charlie & The Chocolate Factory
Winnie the Pooh
Haroun and the Sea of Stories
The Breadwinner

Did you get it?

Children's Literature!

CTaylor said...

I didn't read ANYTHING while I was writing my novel. Although, as soon as I'd finished I did read the latest Harry Potter book.

As you said I didn't want to be influenced by the voice or style of another author but also because I'm easily prone to 'wobbles' about my own writing when I read a writer whose writing I admire.

Now I'm editing I am allowing myself to read other people's novels although it is a constant battle to avoid 'wobbles'.

B.E. Sanderson said...

When I first started writing, I couldn't read anything or my stuff started to sound like whoever I was reading at the time. It was a pain in the behind. Finally, last year, I tried again and found out I got over it. Yay. Now I read in my own genre, as well as others. Anything that sparks my interest. Right now my TBR pile has a couple of historical romances (it's a series), a mystery, a chick-lit, and a thriller or two. There are also a couple of books in my library I've been meaning to read, and those are SF/F. Oh, and Anthony Bourdain's 'Kitchen Confidential' is waiting for me when I get a chance.

Graeme K Talboys said...

This made me go and count my TBR pile. Sob. I thought it might be smaller by now, but it's got bigger. from 73 a month ago it's now up to 87. I'm sure I don't keep going out and buying books. Perhaps I do it in my sleep.

As far as influence goes, the 'damage' was done a long time ago. All those bits of other authors I have absorbed have had plenty of time to compost down by now so that the sh*t I shovel is pretty much my own.

Lane said...

I'm still in two minds about this. It's not so much the absorbing someone else's voice that worries me anymore - as Graeme so rightly says, I think that's already been done. The problem is that I'm a bit scared to delve into something that I know I won't be able to put down. I have no discipline and know that I'll spend writing time, reading. So the TBR pile is teetering precariously until the first is draft is done. Having said that I have just read Concise Chinese- English Dictionary for Lovers, and have Gift of Rain (Tan Twan Eng) just crying out on top of the pile. Oh and Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. .. and the list goes on.

A. Writer said...

I read just as much as I write.

I also read women's fiction/chick lit which is the genre I'm writing.

I don't see a problem reading while writing. I've never felt reading the same genre as I'm writing has hindered me in any way. I'm able to keep the two separate. I don't compare my writing with the book I'm reading as that would just drive me crazy. I'm able to read for relaxation, research and escapism and it doesn't affect my writing or at least I don't think it does.

I think if I didn't read, I'd go mad.

Juliette M said...

I have to agree with you on that A. Writer. I was starting to feel a bit weird as I didnt think the 'reading/writing' style absorption happened to me. It's a relief to see that someone else can read the same genre and is able to keep reading and writing separate - I thought I was being a bit freakish if I'm honest!

Kate said...

I read and write in fantasy, but I cant do both at the same time.

Its awfully jarring not to have a book handy to help you slide away into a different universe, so my thinking is that without the distraction of reading I'll immerse myself into my own fantasy novel and write write write!

I would like to be able to read while I'm writing, but I'm not disciplined enough and will read when I should be writing.

I like the idea of picking up on other people's styles because I dont believe it will 'taint' my own writing, I think it will enhance it. And as stated in a comment above, editing will iron out the creases and the bits of style that dont mesh with the rest.

I just finished a book yesterday and I'm not going to read another one until Christmas. I'm going to take a few deep breaths and then plunge in and write. Hopefully the anticipation of reading the last book of a trilogy that I'm in the middle of will make me write faster. My TBR pile is not a fully formed list yet, and I'm going to try not to add anything to it until Christmas - so please, no suggestions!!


I try to avoid things of a simular ilk to my novel writing but love reading Art history or factual books related to what I am wrting around. I suppose it comes under a type of research but it really is for pleasure. I think I am terrified that waht I ma trying to wrie will morfe into what someone else has written like talking to a foreigner and imitating his accent!! Of course I may jsut be paranoid!

KayJay said...

It depends what I'm working on. With my children's chapter book (the first major thing I tackled) I couldn't read anything in the same genre/age group as I was terrified of being influenced until I found my voice.

With my Chick Lit novel, I have been much more confident and it hasn't been an issue. I've devoured similar books whilst writing it and I find it helps enormously. I believe it's something to do with being able to tap into my imagination or the creative process - that special daydreaming state - more easily. A shortcut, if you like. Anything I can do to escape the day to day and live more in my head helps get the book written. Reading other people's work also heightens the craving to progress with my own story. In general terms if I am a little influenced by others, well, maybe that's not such a bad thing, in moderation? I am a novice, after all.

But yes, I agree that too much reading can eat into precious writing time, damn it!